When Alfred Hitchcock made Suspicion and Shadow of a Doubt, he took off from our secret fear that we never really know the people we’re closest to. The new thriller Deceived, about a woman who discovers that her picture-perfect husband is not what he seems, taps that same hidden anxiety. Women, especially, may find the dark-side-of-a-storybook-marriage scenario hard to resist. Yet the movie, which has just enough twists and turns to keep you occupied, isn’t really clever or ambiguous enough to give you the emotional willies.
Adrienne (Goldie Hawn), who lives in a spacious Manhattan apartment with her museum-curator husband, Jack (John Heard), and their young daughter, first suspects that something is up when Jack goes on a hasty business trip to Boston. The day he’s supposed to be out of town, a friend of Adrienne’s is sure she spotted him in the lobby of the Chesterfield Hotel in Manhattan. Is Jack telling the truth?
A movie like Deceived works, or should work, by teasing us into a state of queasy uncertainty. But the script, by Mary Agnes Donoghue (who wrote and directed the current Paradise) and Derek Saunders, tips its hand early on, and in a fairly clumsy fashion. Jack is made into such a pointed, generic nice guy — so flawlessly romantic and ”caring” — that he’s obviously not on the level; he’s like RoboHusband. Then a local lingerie shop calls and tells Adrienne that Jack left his credit card there (he’d implied that the lacy item he’d gotten her was purchased in Boston). A few scenes later, Adrienne discovers a Chesterfield Hotel mint in Jack’s pocket. These incriminating coincidences are like something out of Screenwriting 101. Structurally, they serve their purpose, but since there’s never really any doubt that Jack is lying, the movie boils down to: How bad is he?
Pretty bad, it turns out — and I won’t give away any more than that. This is the first time in a while that Goldie Hawn has abandoned her gigglepuss persona (even an actress this sexy shouldn’t be biting her lower lip like a flirtatious 5-year-old), and it’s nice to be reminded of what a serenely compelling, no-nonsense heroine she can be. The closest thing to an emotional center in Deceived is Adrienne’s reaction to Jack’s treachery. She isn’t just scared and horrified, she’s angry. And Heard, an overlooked actor in such films as Chilly Scenes of Winter and After Hours, has the right surface normalcy to play this duplicitous lout. As Jack, he’s cheery on the surface, but his eyes are dead.
Deceived, though, doesn’t give the two characters — or their marriage — enough layers. The most effective part of the movie is also the most routine: the cleverly staged stalker finale. What’s missing? Atmosphere, for one. Though set in and around Manhattan, most of the movie was filmed in Toronto, and it has that anonymous, shot-in-Toronto feeling. More than that, Deceived, unlike Fatal Attraction or the 1987 thriller The Stepfather (which was about a psycho killer posing as a family man), lacks humor, a sense of gamesmanship. The film makes the mistake of allowing the audience to feel one step ahead of Adrienne. This tactic is meant to create suspense — we know the traps she’s walking into — but it has the unfortunate effect of letting her seem like a dupe. When a mysterious stranger, who may or may not be Jack, shows up at the house, he sneaks into Adrienne’s bedroom and starts caressing her. And for what seems like an interminable amount of time, she remains — despite his pawing — fast asleep. All it takes is one moment like that to make a thriller instantly turn to camp. B-